December 2009
2009, Dec 30
2009 year in review

I came to Japan at the start of 2009, and I can’t wait for 2010. Stick around, good things are on the way.


Yamashita Tsuneo, “Another Time On The Ryuku Islands” (Tosei-sha Gallery)
This show stayed with me longer than any other I saw this year. The quality and selection of the prints really drew me in, and I was surprised to find that seemingly simple images held my attention for longer than I would have expected. This work strikes me as currently unfashionable but confident; I would not be surprised to see Yamashita-san find a larger audience. [full review]

Fukuyama Emi, “Following the Moon 3” (Totem Pole Photo Gallery)
I’ve heard quite a few people say that if Fukuyama-san keeps up the work she’s been doing, she’ll have a very bright future. I definitely agree. [full review]

Asada Masashi, “Asadake” (Konica Minolta Plaza)
This exhibit got the best audience reaction out of anything I saw, with good reason. [full review on Japan Exposures]

“Travel” exhibit part 3: ‘Travel Abroad’ (Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography)
Exhibits here run hot and cold, but this one was a real success. The curators gave roughly 10 photographers ample space to express themselves, using photographs taken outside of Japan. Miki Jun and Kimura Ihee (working in Baton Rouge and Paris, respectively) made the strongest impression on me.

Ota Takumi, “Core” (Totem Pole Photo Gallery)
Expressive, large-format color work that really caught my eye. [full review]


Abe Jun, “Citizens” (Vacuum Press)
Black and white street photography magic from Osaka around 1980. It’s nothing less than a tour de force, you could liken him to a Japanese Garry Winogrand – see the images on John Sypal’s blog for more.

Noguchi Yasuko, “Sakurabito” (Vacuum Press)
Really, a special book, which I should have mentioned earlier. In a way it’s a partner to “Citizens,” but taken over the past few years, with a slower pace. I think this book will age well, as a clear portrait of late 00’s Osaka.

Fujioka Aya, “I Don’t Sleep” (Akaaka-sha)
Akaaka puts out a lot of books that could easily be called “interesting,” but this one goes beyond that description. “I Don’t Sleep” takes the viewer through a highly personal journey with the photographer’s mother, with unexpected detours along the way. I only recently saw this beautifully printed and edited book, which needs a proper review.

These two books weren’t printed in 2009, but…
Ed Panar, “Golden Palms“ (J&L): Along with finding a lab that can process and scan a roll of film for 300 yen, this book was a big reason for wanting to shoot with color film again.
Tsuchida Hiromi, “Zokushin” (Tosei-sha): I got it late in the year, and I don’t know how I lived without it. For now, at least, my photographic bible.


I put many a photoblog in a purgatory folder wihin my RSS reader, but I still closely follow these three blogs about photography culture in Japan.

Japan Exposures, for wide-ranging commentary on Japanese photo culture
eyecurious, for high-minded but extraordinarily clear writing about photography in general, with a focus on Japan in particular
_valerian, for the real “street level” excitement of living and taking photos in Tokyo

YouTube Videos

You only need to see one OK:

Kool Keith talking about how to stock a refrigerator


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2009, Dec 24
Philosophy interlude

Here is a link to the full text, in PDF form, of Peter Sloterdijk’s Critique of Cynical Reason. If you have any inclination to read contemporary philosophy I can recommend it very highly. Sloterdijk is much easier to understand, and much more direct in his style, than most other continental philosophy cats. He’s amoral but life-affirming—just how I like my philosophers! The only technical term he leans on is kynicism, which refers to the Greek version of joyful, “cheeky” cynicism, rather than the negative cynicism we know today. Diogenes, a brash philosopher of Plato’s time, is the original kynic.

This is an excerpt from the text:

Before we “really live,” we always have just one more matter to attend to, just one more precondition to fulfill, just one more temporarily more important wish to satisfy, just one more account to settle. And with this just one more and one more time arises that structure of postponement and indirect living that keeps the system of excessive production going on. The latter, of course, always knows how to present itself as an unconditionally “good end” that deludes us with its light as though it were a real goal but that whenever we approach it recedes once more into the distance.

Kynical reason culminates in the knowledge—decried as nihilism—that we must snub the grand goals. In this regard, we cannot be nihilistic enough. Those who reject all so-called goals and values in a kynical sense break through the circle of instrumental reason, in which “good” goals are pursued with “bad” means. The means lie in our hands, and they are means with such enormous significance (in every respect: production, organization, as well as destruction) that we must begin to ask ourselves whether there can still be any ends that are served by the means. For what good could such immeasurable means be necessary? In that moment when our consciousness becomes ripe to let go of the idea of good as a goal and to devote itself to what is already there, a release is possible in which the piling up of means for imaginary, always receding goals automatically becomes superfluous. Cynicism can only be stemmed by kynicism, not by morality. Only a joyful kynicism of ends is never tempted to forget that life has nothing to lose except itself.

buy from Abebooks


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Peter Sloterdijk, Quotes

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2009, Dec 15
Lost horizons

I added a China section to the links on the right side of the page, because I’m seeing a lot of good things there. Definitely look at Jia Za Zhi (Fake Magazine) to keep up with what’s happening.

Next year in Shanghai? Well, I’d like to visit…


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2009, Dec 13
The photobooks I bought this year

As part of the “future of photobooks” experiment, I want to list the books I bought this year. If there’s concern about the future of photobooks, then surely it’s because there’s a feeling that people are no longer interested in purchasing them. Maybe this information can shed some light on the audience of books produced by smaller publishers or individuals.

These titles are listed in reverse chronological order, in the format Author-Title-Publisher-Price-Place I bought it. Note that 100 yen is, very roughly, $1.

Tatsuya Shimohira, “Family.” Self. 500 yen. Totem Pole Photo Gallery.

Abe Jun, “Citizens.” 2000 yen. Vacuum Press. Sokyu-sha bookstore.

Marten Lange, “Anomalies,” Kim Hyunjin, “Even Your Ears,” Noriko Takazawa, “Sensation.” 38 euro shipped (over 2 purchases). Farewell Books. Farewell Books site.

Noguchi Yasuko, “Sakurabito,” 1000 yen. Vacuum Press. Sokyu-sha.

LP Magazine #1 and #2. 500 yen each. Self. Sokyu-sha.

Hamburger Eyes #13. $20 shipped. Self. Online through Kickstarter.

Asada Masashi, “Asadake.” 3300 yen. Akaaka. Konica Minolta Plaza.

Kawauchi Rinko, “Utatane.” 3000 yen. Little More. Some big bookstore.

Fresh off my last job, I began the year spending a lot on two books from relatively large Japanese publishers, Little More and Akaaka. After that I mostly bought books published by small presses (Vacuum, Farewell) or individuals. These books appealed to me because I they were affordable! I’m sure many other people make decisions in same way. How many undergraduate photography students today could easily drop $50, or even $30, if they saw a book they wanted?

Luckily, the pleasure of buying a book doesn’t correspond to its price—who was ever happy about buying an overpriced college textbook? An inexpensive, independently published book can still be entirely satisfying to purchase. That said, just because it’s a labor of love doesn’t make it cheap: Marc gave me some gentle ribbing on Twitter when I said that spending around $28 shipped for an independent photobook was steep for an online impulse buy. (Which it still is!) Compare that to my experience when I walked into Totem Pole Photo Gallery, picked up Tatsuya Shimohira’s zine and bought it on the spot when I heard that it was 500 yen.

Just as film has found its audience shrinking, maybe the same thing is happening to photobooks. But small publishers should still find readers under these conditions: without the need to support a large staff, they can easily adjust the scale of their projects to fit a modest audience. There will never be an Impossible Project for photobooks, because producing a book, especially in small batches, is relatively simple. Indeed, given how easy it is, it’s tempting to to consider the idea of a small, international community of publishers and book buyers, where everyone supports each other, ends up with each other’s books.

So, the field is open to anyone—with money, that is, and that’s where I see more questions than answers. Are these endeavors always a passion project? How do small or individual photobook publishers stay afloat? Do they ever break even on a book, let alone make money? I’m sure there are people out there willing to share the answers to these questions, so I’ll ask them and report back here.


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Photobook Nonsense

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2009, Dec 08
Narahashi Asako at Tokyo Art Museum

It’s one thing to look at a book (or JPG, for that matter) but often the clarity of a print can offer a different sensation. On the back of her impressive book “half awake and half asleep in the water,” I went to Narahashi Asako’s career-spanning exhibit at the Tokyo Art Museum in the hope of seeing something different from her prints. The show did make good on that expectation, but unfortunately not for the better.

Coming Closer and Getting Farther Away 2009/1989“ (up until December 27) was a real disappointment, largely because the prints were so poor in quality. It’s not an exaggeration to say that the catalog for the show, even the flyer for the show, looked better than these prints, which were large-sized inkjets with gigantic white borders. The colors were completely flat, as if there was a pale blue color cast—so frustrating when it’s obvious that Narahashi can make good prints!

Beyond their quality, all of the photos in this show were hung unframed, pasted to the wall by the top two corners. The bottom two corners hung free, and the paper was bent or creased in many places, as if each photo had been, as they say, blowing in the wind. Most of the prints were pasted up right next to each other, which made for an ugly sight: a solid line of loose paper flying off the wall, large borders cluttering the field of vision, and glare bouncing off the creases.

This style of hanging prints could have worked in a different building, but the Tokyo Art Museum is designed by Tadao Ando, which means that (for better or worse) it resembles an industrial refrigerator made out of concrete. In such an austere setting it didn’t seem fitting to hang the work as if haphazardly. I could have missed Narahashi’s concept entirely, but it was another off-kilter element which prevented the show from ever really getting off the ground.


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Asako Narahashi

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2009, Dec 03
Mu Ge exhibit at Zen Foto

Mu Ge’s photos have really caught my eye for the past year, so I’m excited to see his exhibit later this month at Zen Foto Gallery. The show is up from December 18 to January 10.

So far I’ve only seen his work online, and indeed he’s been picked up by a few blogs. But is it too much of a cliche to say that I’m looking forward to seeing his prints in the flesh? In any case, if you’re in Tokyo, you should probably check this exhibit out, and if you’re not in Tokyo, I think a visit to Mu Ge’s Flickr or website will be rewarding.


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Zen Foto Gallery

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